The Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft environmental impact statement for the 500-kV SunZia transmission project, which is designed to deliver 4,500 MW of mainly renewable energy from New Mexico and Arizona to Southwest markets, including California.
The Interior Department agency on April 28 also said it was starting the environmental review process for NV Energy’s Greenlink West project in Nevada and the Cross-Tie project between Nevada and Utah, which is being developed by a Pinnacle West Capital and Berkshire Hathaway Energy joint venture. Combined, the three projects could unlock 10,000 MW of renewable energy, according to the Interior Department.
The BLM’s action on the environmental reviews came two days after the first meeting of Nevada's Regional Transmission Coordination Task Force, which was set up as part of a state legislative mandate that prompts NV Energy to consider joining a regional transmission organization by the end of the decade.
Several major transmission projects in the Southwest appear to be advancing at the same time that Western utilities and grid operators are exploring market options such as an RTO.
The SunZia project, under development since the mid 2000s, would run about 550 miles from central New Mexico to central Arizona, according to SunZia Transmission. It is slated to have a 3,000-MW line and a 1,500-MW line that would be built separately.
San Francisco-based Pattern Energy is also developing wind farms in New Mexico totaling about 3,000 MW.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved an agreement granting a Pattern Energy subsidiary 1,500 MW on the first line. SunZia Transmission and Pattern Energy in March asked FERC to approve the results of a second solicitation process that would give Pattern Energy another 1,500 MW on the same line, which was expanded by switching to high-voltage direct current technology from an alternating current line.
In a pending request, the companies asked FERC to make a decision by May 2, 2022, so they can finance the SunZia project soon. The BLM is taking public comments on the draft environmental impact statement until Aug. 1, according to a Federal Register notice issued Monday.
The companies aim to start building the first line in mid-2023 and start commercial operations by late-2025. The schedule for the second line will depend on the timing of the financing and construction of the first line as well as regional demand for transmission capacity, the companies told FERC.
MMR Group, which owns the SunZia project, has agreed to sell it to Pattern Energy in a deal slated to close this year, according to the FERC filing.
Pattern Energy has been marketing its wind generation to utilities in California.
In December, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, for example, started buying power from Pattern Energy’s 350-MW Red Cloud wind farm in New Mexico for $41/MWh under a 20-year, fixed-price contract. The wind farm has an estimated 46% capacity factor, reflecting New Mexico's strong wind potential, LADWP said.
Meanwhile, transmission projects are also advancing in Nevada, according to presentations last week to the state's Regional Transmission Coordination Task Force.
The Nevada Public Utilities Commission has approved NV Energy’s $2.5 billion, Greenlink project, which includes 525-kV, 345-kV, 230-kV and 120-kV electric transmission facilities. NV Energy, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, aims to have the project's western and northern lines fully operating by the end of 2028, according to the presentation. In part, the projects are designed to access Nevada’s rich solar resources.
TransCanyon, the Pinnacle West-Berkshire joint venture, is making progress on its $667 million, 214-mile Cross-Tie project that will increase transmission capacity among the PacifiCorp, NV Energy, California Independent System Operator and Idaho Power balancing areas, according to the company’s presentation.
The 500-kV line between Utah and Nevada would facilitate imports of renewable resources to California and Nevada including Wyoming wind, company officials said. TransCanyon aims to have the project operating in 2027.
LS Power and GridLiance, a NextEra Energy Resources subsidiary, are also developing transmission projects that could add to Nevada’s interconnections with other states, including California.
“These four new projects are going to have a big impact on how Nevada plays in any kind of RTO in the West from a clean energy generation perspective,” said Cameron Dyer, Western Resource Advocates managing senior staff attorney, and a task force member.
Given the state’s central location in the West, the transmission buildout could give Nevada a major role in any potential RTO in the area, according to Dyer.